LGBTQ+ representation onscreen is constantly growing and evolving, with queer characters being at the center of a slew of different stories. Love, Victor, a TV spinoff of the 2018 rom-com Love, Simon, is the latest to join the fray, chronicling the complicated coming out story of gay teenager Victor (Michael Cimino) in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. The series, which debuts on Hulu later this week, was originally conceived for Disney+, before moving to the other streaming service due to its "adult themes." While it remains to be seen if that move will ultimately help the series, the disconnect between being family-friendly and being authentic can be felt throughout the 10-episode first season. Like its titular protagonist, Love, Victor frequently struggles with what kind of show it wants to be, before eventually finding its footing as a cozy, cutesy -- and occasionally flawed -- teen dramedy.
Love, Victor opens with its titular character transitioning into life at Creekwood High School, after his family spontaneously moved to the Atlanta suburbs from Texas. After hearing about the seemingly perfect coming out story of Creekwood alumni Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), who is now happily off to out-of-state college with his boyfriend, Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale), Victor begins to wonder if his own journey of discovering his sexuality will ever be that easy. When Victor forms a romance with Mia (Rachel Naomi Hilson), the most popular girl in school, he starts to question his sexuality even more -- especially once he meets Benji (George Sear), his effortlessly cool, openly gay classmate.
From the get-go, Love, Victor sets out to address (and potentially subvert) one of Love, Simon's most controversial aspects -- the fact that Simon's coming out story was aided by his white, liberal privilege. Without getting into spoilers, that dichotomy is addressed in some charming ways throughout Love, Victor, thanks to narration from Robinson (who also executive produces the series), and a set of poignant cameos from Robinson and Lonsdale. It's clear that Victor feels paralyzed by the situation -- the pressure from his family, his budding relationship with Mia, and his own internalized homophobia -- that he's found himself in. While that's incredibly reflective of a lot of people's process of coming out, it is portrayed in a way that's frustrating to watch. Victor is clearly empathetic, but also incredibly naive, which results in him regularly coming across as a passive protagonist for about the first half of the season.
Another aspect of Love, Victor that arguably gets in its own way is its tone, which often doesn't know how to strike the balance between adult and childish. While certain scenes are incredibly slice-of-life and authentic, others come across as contrived in an almost baffling way. The same can be said for the series' approach to humor, which fluctuates wildly between being honest, surreal (a running joke about a contestant at Battle of the Bands with a very specific repertoire of songs comes to mind), and corny, with some jokes feeling like they're missing Disney's multi-camera sitcom laugh track. References to Impossible Burgers, memes, and Fox News definitely cement the show for Gen Z, while also peppering in other name-drops that will make older audience members wince. If you've ever wanted a reminder that Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" is almost a decade old, this show is here to help. While there's something incredibly refreshing about having queer culture normalized on such a family-friendly series -- including hearing a character literally say the words "sexuality is a spectrum" -- those moments feel slightly undercut when surrounded by awkward attempts at humor.
As the season goes along, Love, Victor begins to come a bit more into its own, and the same can definitely be said for its ensemble cast. Mia often comes across as the show's second lead, and Hilson rises to the challenge admirably, delivering a nuanced, heartfelt performance in even the most tumultuous situation. It is worth acknowledging the problematic fact that Mia -- the show's only Black female character -- is arguably the one who goes through the most emotional turmoil, but that's a spoiler-filled conversation for another day. Anthony Turpel and Bebe Wood are delightful as Victor and Mia's best friends, with Wood delivering a worthy successor to her bizarrely-captivating performance on The New Normal. Victor's parents, Armando (James Martinez) and Isabel (Ana Ortiz), and younger siblings Pilar (Isabella Ferreira) and Adrian (Mateo Fernandez), do enough with their respective performances to differentiate themselves from a typical sitcom family, but still fall into frustrating tropes here and there. It's also worth highlighting Mekhi Phifer and Sophia Bush as Mia's dad and his new girlfriend, who feel like they're in a completely different show, but in a surprisingly-endearing way.
Love, Victor isn't necessarily the best coming-of-age story of 2020 (Netflix's Never Have I Ever and I Am Not Okay With This both come to mind), or the best Disney+ series that was cast out to Hulu (High Fidelity, which debuted this past February, has a much clearer sense of self and style). But when Love, Victor works, it really works -- and when it doesn't, that still feels quietly groundbreaking in its own way, by making an LGBTQ+ love story so accessible and normal on a family-friendly TV show. While it might take a while for the series to really find itself, its message of self-discovery and self-respect is just enough to make that journey not feel like a total bust.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Season One of Love, Victor debuts Wednesday, June 17th, on Hulu.